Copyright ownership in China arises automatically, upon completion of the creation of works. A registration is not mandatory to claim legal ownership. However, registration is generally recommended for the following reasons:
- Copyright registration serves as prima facie proof of ownership. This greatly facilitates enforcement efforts in China, especially in administrative enforcement as well as in litigation. In China, witness evidence generally carries lower evidential weight than documentary evidence such as copyright registration certificates. Personal declarations of copyright ownership by the creator of a work are not taken as substantial evidence.
- In Chinese courts, evidence of creation produced abroad must generally also be notarised (by a public notary in that country) and legalised (by the Chinese Consulate in that country) before it can be admitted as evidence. In practice, this notarisation and legalisation process (in addition to the required translation into Chinese) can often be a lengthy and costly affair. Having a Chinese copyright registration as prima facie proof of ownership makes it much easier and cuts a lot of red tape.
- Many China-based e-commerce platforms have adopted a notice-and-take-down programme. Many of these programmes require the proof of IP rights in order to take infringing offers down. Again, having a Chinese copyright registration makes the tasks much easier for both the e-commerce platform operator and the copyright owner.
- By a similar token, a copyright registration can more effectively back up one’s claim in a cease-and-desist letter.
- In situations where the IP owner is facing obstacles in securing other forms of IP protection in China, copyright registrations can serve as a fall-back. For example, if for some reason the IP owner is unable to obtain a trademark registration for its logo or a design registration for its product, it may get some comfort in getting a copyright registration in China.
- Finally, the copyright registration procedure is straightforward and inexpensive. There was a reduction in official fees in 2018, and for certain works (e.g. computer software), no official fees are required anymore.. The current official fees for a copyright registration application now range from RMB 100-2000 (USD 15–300), depending on the type of work for which registration is requested. Moreover, the process is relatively quick: the standard application timeline to obtain both the copyright recordal certificate and the stamped sample of the work is about 5-6 months. This can be further expedited upon payment of modest extra official fees, to approximately 3 months.
How long is the copyright registration valid for?
Once registered, the copyright registration will last until the expiry of that copyright in the registered work under Chinese copyright law. Generally speaking, the copyright duration is the life of the author plus 50 years.
What can be registered?
A copyright registration in China can cover all copyrightable subject matters under the Chinese copyright law. For instance, we have helped clients obtain copyright registrations for the following types of copyright work:
- Artwork (including logo marks);
- Books, printed matter and other literary works;
- Audio-visual works;
- Musical works;
- In-app or in-program user interfaces;
- Website layout;
- Computer software;
- Product packaging design;
- Works of applied art, e.g. certain toy/furniture designs.
With the forthcoming implementation of the new Copyright Law which expands the scope of copyright work, copyright registration in China can potentially cover other types of work such as multimedia works, compilation works and other types of unlisted works.
Copyright registration is administered by the Copyright Protection Centre of China (“CPCC“). The CPCC is an institution directly under the National Copyright Administration of China, which is in charge of copyright registration of works, computer software, copyright pledges, licensing and assignment filings.
There is a set of prescribed paperwork for submission to CPCC, which can now also be filed online. This includes details about the date of creation, identity of the author, employment etc. Our firm has extensive experience with these and can draft this quickly and efficiently.
After successful completion of the formality examinations, it normally takes about three months from the date of application with the CPCC to receive a copyright registration certificate. This certificate does not include the stamped sample of the work (which is often required or desirable for enforcement actions in China), but the applicant can file an extra application for such stamped sample. This application for a certificate for a stamped sample of the work generally takes a further 1 to 3 months to be processed. Expedited examination for both applications (recordal and stamped sample) is available for an additional fee of around RMB 300 (USD 50) upwards ,depending on the requested urgency (e.g. the applications can be expedited to a few days or weeks).
Copyright registrations in other Asian countries
Not all Asian countries allow copyright owners to voluntarily register their copyright. Japan and Vietnam are two Asian countries which have a voluntary copyright registration system, and similarly we have helped clients obtaining copyright registrations there. Watch this space for our further updates on this topic.
Authored by Eugene Low and Stefaan Meuwissen